As reflected in the name of the planned facility for UNG’s business school, Mike Cottrell has spent a lifetime in business, technology and innovation.
Mike and his wife, Lynn Cottrell, have committed to a $10 million gift to UNG to help fund construction of a new building — the Cottrell Center for Business, Technology and Innovation — on the Dahlonega Campus to house the Mike Cottrell College of Business. It is the second transformational gift the Cottrells have made to UNG; the first was $10 million in 2006 that kicked off the university’s first-ever capital campaign and supported the establishment of the college that bears his name.
“When we set up the Cottrell Foundation Inc. Fund at the North Georgia Community Foundation, we did so with the intention of being able to make gifts to organizations such as UNG and the Mike Cottrell College of Business that are focused on education.” Cottrell said. “I have been fortunate in my life, worked hard, and achieved a measure of success. I am able to give back to the community, and I want to make a difference.”
Born in Germany in 1953, Cottrell studied mechanical engineering at Southern Tech. He also served two years active duty and four years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Cottrell started his career by working his way through college with Bankhead Transportation Equipment, a company that manufactured automobile transporters. His father, Don Cottrell, and a business partner, John Sullivan, left Bankhead in 1975 to start Cottrell Sullivan Inc., and Mike joined the company’s engineering department designing car haulers. Mike was named a vice president soon after joining the company.
In 1987, Cottrell purchased his father’s company and changed the name to Cottrell Inc. He grew the business over the next several years through innovations in management, product design, and manufacturing expertise. In 1995, he purchased his biggest competitor and former employer, Bankhead Transportation Equipment, and became CEO. By 2000, Cottrell Inc., had expanded internationally and was the largest over-the-road car-haul manufacturer in the world. Cottrell sold the business in 2014.
Mike Cottrell has served on numerous statewide and local boards, including the Georgia Board of Economic Development. He has served on the UNG Foundation Board and is an emeritus member of the Board. He also was co-chair of the University’s successful and only capital campaign which met its goal, raising over $40 million. The Cottrells were named the 2008 Philanthropists of the Year by the North Georgia Community Foundation for their support of several organizations. In 2019, the University System of Georgia Foundation presented Cottrell with one of its highest honors — the Regents’ Hall of Fame Alumni and Distinguished Friends Award, for his support of UNG.
Recently, the Cottrells partnered with UNG, Junior Achievement, area school systems and others to create the Mike and Lynn Cottrell Junior Achievement Discovery Center at North Georgia. The $3.5 million gift to create the center in Cumming, Georgia, is the largest ever received by Junior Achievement of Northeast Georgia in its 70-year history.
The Cottrells have three children, DJ, Kodi, and Kayla. Mike Cottrell also has two children by a previous marriage, Kris and Michael, and four grandchildren. He and his family live on their Lumpkin County ranch and spend part of the year in Florida.